Two Spaces, Mundane and Profound
A couple weeks ago I dusted off my old telescope and set it up in the small park next to my apartment.
I’ve never been more popular with my neighbors. Baltimore is like too many places, now not even limited to cities. With the unaided eye there are only a couple stars or planets to see. There is no real horizon. There is little reason to look up.
That night I shared some beers and some sights a few of us had never seen, and some stories that hadn’t been shared.
In the process, the gap between the two versions of space we know, the profound and mundane, were never more apparent.
I don’t own a fancy telescope — a beginner’s refractor, a relatively cheap tube with a set of mirrors on either end — but it worked well enough to see sights never seen before.
The bands on Jupiter and the Galilean moons. Sunset creeping across the mountain ridges of the moon. The rusty silhouette of Mars.
To share this with my neighbors and "super" of my apartment building, Andy, and his daughter and her kids, was fantastic. Something none of them had seen, except one.
While I let his grandkids fiddle with it, inevitably repositioning it while it got jostled around, Andy told me a story I had never heard. He worked at Cape Canaveral for a while on the tail end of his time in the Air Force, and was there for the last couple Vera launches.
These were the early detection systems for nuclear detonations around the world. The old “trust with verification” that wasn’t well-defined until the Reagan years. He was no engineer or scientist, but worked basic logistics, and his daughter and grandkids never really heard about it until then.
But there he was, just a couple weeks ago, looking to the sky with bright and wistful eyes, peering back into his past. He told his story with a conviction that was enough to pull the kids away from their smartphones when it wasn’t their turn at the eyepiece.
It was especially great to see Andy light up one last time.
I wanted to share this because Andy passed away Tuesday, or maybe the night before, at the age of 72.
He had a front seat to the rise of space-based information, and in turn he saw some of its applications for the first time.
The telescope was just one way we interacted with the night sky that night.
We checked the weather on our phones with real-time satellite maps to see if some clouds would pass and if we should pack it up (thankfully we didn't). Even that wasn't possible until a couple decades ago.
It used to be that hurricane and storm tracking was all anecdotal. Ships had to reach port before anyone knew anything, and the data was days old. Satellites changed that starting in the '60s and probably just saved a lot of lives as Hurricane Ida ramped up from a tiny storm to a major hurricane in just a couple days. That wasn't possible until the this decade.
We also used space tech to order the aforementioned beer for delivery to a park with no address. The GPS system built into the app led a delivery guy to where we were, without a proper address, down to a couple square meters. And as hedonistic and shallow as that is, it couldn't exist until several years ago.
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Several generations have been fixated on the “firsts” — first to the Moon, first to Mars, first pictures from the edges of the solar system, first measurements of the edges of spacetime itself. Yet we use it without a thought today.
The profound was above, the mundane was on the ground. But to be honest, that is only a matter of perspective, and it has never been more of a mix.
The first generation appreciates it the most, but it’s inevitably taken for granted from there. Sputnik, Apollo, Voyager, so many legendary programs.
How about the first to offer global internet coverage at an economical price? How about an internet not controlled by governments with a stranglehold on terrestrial cables?
What does it mean when we the ability to deliver a case of beer is mapped on a realistic 3D model of the Earth but the data is reduced down to a delivery fee?
This is being built right now but is far from complete. The Tower of Babel pales in comparison.
This is a duality we exist in today. The heavens above have never been more connected to the Earth below. There is a reason why space launches have accelerated, doubling within just a handful of years, and are accelerating even more going forward, even though they aren’t as grandiose as they used to be. There is so much to gain.
I wish it meant more to me right now than just me and Andy ordering a case of beer to a park, but it is part of the path forward.
Profound and mundane indeed.
The “nuts and bolts” of this massive wave of space-based information services is well-established but under-appreciated. My colleague and friend, Jason Simpkins, has covered this far better than I ever could.
I’ll just close this out by saying it is okay if you take a lot of what we have right now for granted. Just take some time to look up, find something worth sharing, and cheers some beers when and while you can. We've come so far, and don't think that this is where we peak.
Adam's editorial talents and analysis drew the attention of senior editors at Outsider Club, which he joined in mid-2012. While he has acquired years of hands-on experience in the editorial room by working side by side with ex-brokers, options floor traders, and financial advisors, he is acutely aware of the challenges faced by retail investors after starting at the ground floor in the financial publishing field. For more on Adam, check out his editor's page.
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